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The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 30913

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

(A.) Its General Principles.

(1.) Its pure Monotheism; admittedly true.

(2.) Its seven days need not be taken literally.

(3.) Its gradual development; admittedly true.

(B.) Its Detailed Order.

(1.) The earliest state of the earth.

(2.) Light.

(3.) The Firmament.

(4.) Dry Land.

(5.) Vegetation.

(6.) The Sun and Moon.

(7.) Fishes and Birds.

(8.) Land Animals.

(9.) Man.

(C.) Conclusion.

The accuracy of the narrative points to its having been Divinely revealed.

Having decided in the previous chapters on the Existence of God, and that it was credible that He might make a miraculous Revelation to man; we pass on now to the Jewish Religion, which (as well as the Christian) actually claims to be such a Revelation.

And the first argument we have to consider in its favour is that afforded by the opening chapter of Genesis. It is urged that this account of the Creation must have been Divinely revealed, since it contains a substantially correct account of events which could not have been otherwise known at the time. What then we have to examine is, whether this narrative is nearer the truth, as we now know it from geology and other sciences, than could have been the case, if written by a man ignorant of these sciences. And the ancient narratives of Babylonia, India, Persia, and elsewhere, show how far from the truth mere human conjecture on such a subject is likely to be.

While if we admit a revelation at all, there is nothing improbable in some account of the creation of the world having been revealed to man very early in his history, and being accurately preserved by the Jews, while only distorted versions of it occur among other nations. Indeed considering the common custom among ancient nations of worshipping the heavenly bodies, animals, etc., no subject could have been more suited for a first revelation than the statement in simple language that all these were created by one supreme God. We will now consider the general principles of the narrative, and then its detailed order.

(A.) Its General Principles.

The most important of these are its pure Monotheism, its seven days, and its gradual development, each of which we will notice in turn.

(1.) Its pure Monotheism.

This alone renders it almost, if not quite, unique among similar narratives. According to the writer, the whole universe, including sun, moon, and stars, was all due to one God. And this is obvious enough now, but it was not so when the narrative was written. For other ancient accounts are either Pantheistic, and confuse God with the universe; or Dualistic, and assume two eternal principles of good and evil; or Polytheistic, and make the universe the work of several gods. The Jewish writer, on the other hand, has kept clear of all these theories; and he is admittedly right and all the others wrong.

(2.) Its seven days.

Next as to the seven days. Now it is generally assumed, doubtless from their being referred to in the Fourth Commandment, that the writer intended these days to be ordinary days of twenty-four hours each, but this is at least doubtful. For ordinary days depend on the sun, and would therefore have been impossible before the formation of the sun on the fourth day; as the writer himself implies, when he says that the division of time into days and years was due to the sun.

Then there is the difficulty as to the seventh day, when God rested from all His work. This, it will be remembered had no close, or evening, and it is implied that it has continued ever since. For if God only rested for twenty-four hours, and then set to work again it would not have been a rest from all His work. But in this case, the seventh day would represent a long period of time, and if so the other days would probably do the same. Moreover the writer, or compiler, of this very narrative, after describing the creation in six days, says it all occurred in one day,[10] so he could scarcely have thought the days to be literal.

[10] Gen. 2. 4.

There are thus great difficulties from the narrative itself in taking the word day in its ordinary sense; and it seems better to consider it (like so many terms in the Bible) as a human analogy applied to God. Then God's days must be understood in the same way as God's eyes or God's hands; and this removes all difficulties.

None of these terms are of course literally true, but they represent the truth to man in such a way that he can to some extent understand it. For example, the phrase that God gained the victory by His own right hand clearly means that He gained it not with the assistance of others, or with the help of weapons, but simply by His own unaided inherent strength. It was such a victory as might in a man be described as gained by his own right hand. And the same may be said of the passage, The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers, and many others which occur in the Bible. The terms hands, eyes, and ears, when applied to God, are thus human analogies, which must not be taken literally.

And in one passage at least the word day is used in a similar sense; for we read "Hast thou eyes of flesh or seest thou as man seeth? Are thy days as the days of man, or thy years as man's days?"[11] Here it will be noticed days and years are applied to God in precisely the same manner as eyes and seeing.

[11] Job 10. 4, 5.

Moreover similar terms occur all through the present narrative. Even the simple words God said cannot be taken literally, for there was no one to speak to. They must be meant in the sense that God thought, or that God willed. And we have no more right to suppose the days to be literal days than to suppose that God literally spoke. What we are to suppose in the one case is that God-the Almighty One, for whom nothing is too hard-created all things in such a way as might to man be best represented by a simple word of command. And what we are to suppose in the other case, is that God-the Eternal One, to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday-created all things in such periods of time as might to man be best represented by six days. Vast as the universe was, man was to regard it as being to God no more than a week's work to himself. In short, the time of creation, however long in itself, was utterly insignificant in its relation to God; to Him each stage was a mere day.

And this it may be added, is not a purely modern theory, made to reconcile the narrative with science; for the Greek Jew, Philo, born about B.C. 20, who knew nothing of geology, ridicules the idea of the days of Genesis being literal, or representing any definite periods of time.[12]

[12] Works of Philo Jud?us, First book of Allegories of the Sacred Laws, Yonge's translation, 1854, vol. i., p. 52.

(3.) Its gradual development.

Next, it must be noticed that, according to Genesis, God did not create a perfect world all at once, but slowly built it up step by step. At first the earth was waste and void, and only after it had passed through several stages did it become fully inhabited. Moreover, at every step (with two exceptions, the firmament and man, noticed later on), God examined the work and pronounced it good. He seems thus to have discerned a beauty and excellence in each stage; though it was not till the close of the whole work that He was completely satisfied, and pronounced it all very good.

And the narrative appears to be quite correct. For geology shows that the formation of the earth, with its various inhabitants, was a gradual process, not accomplished all at once, but slowly step by step, through successive ages. And it also shows that these ages were of such magnitude and importance that we cannot regard them as mere preparations for man's coming, but as having a beauty and excellence of their own, so that they well deserved to be called good. But we may ask, how did the writer of Genesis know all this?

And then as to the way in which this development was brought about. According to Genesis, each stage was due to what we may call a Special Divine force, represented by a word of command from God. And this also seems correct, for we cannot otherwise account for the first appearance of the various groups, such as plants, animals, and men. It is not disputed that these various stages may have been evolved from the previous ones, e.g., the living from the not-living, which the narrative itself suggests in the words, Let the earth put forth grass; and also at its close, when it speaks of the generations of the heaven and of the earth; which implies some kind of organic descent, or evolution. Indeed the common expression that God made, is probably used in the sense of evolved; since the same word is employed in ver. II of fruit-trees making fruit (translated bearing or yielding fruit); yet we know they do not make fruit suddenly out of nothing, but slowly produce it.

What is disputed is, that this evolution took place merely under the influence of natural development, and without the additional influence of a new Divine force. And considering that all attempts to effect a similar transition now have failed completely, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there was some other and special Cause at work then. Nor is it easy to see how some of the changes could have been otherwise produced. Take, for instance, this very subject of the origin of life. As far as we know, the only natural mode in which life can begin is from a living parent, yet there was a time when there were no living parents on this earth. How, then, could it have originated, except by some process other than natural, i.e., supernatural? Or, again, to take another instance, when the first free being, whether animal or man, appeared on this planet, a force totally different from all natural forces was introduced, and one which could not have been derived from them alone.

And then there is another, and very interesting point, to notice. It is that according to Genesis, these steps were not all of equal importance. For while it describes most of them by the word made, which, as just said, seems to mean here evolved; on three occasions, and only three, it uses the word create. These refer to the origin of the universe, of animal life (fishes and birds), and of man. And this is very significant, when we remember that these correspond to the beginning of matter, mind, and spirit; and are therefore (as said in Chapter IV.) just the three places where something altogether new was introduced; which could not, as far as we can see, have been evolved from anything else. And this double method of producing, partly by creating, and partly by making or evolving, is again referred to at the close of the narrative, where we read that God rested from all His work, which He had created and made. So much for the general principles of the narrative, we pass on now to its detailed order.

(B.) Its Detailed Order.

It will be remembered that in Genesis, after describing the earliest state of the earth, there are eight stages in its development; two of which occurred on the third, and two on the sixth, day. We have thus altogether nine subjects to examine.

(1.) The earliest state of the earth.

Now according to Genesis, the earth was at first waste and void and in darkness, and apparently surrounded by the waters. And if we adopt the usual nebula theory, and refer this to the first period after it became a separate planet, and had cooled so as not to give out any light itself, these statements seem quite correct. For we know from geology that the earth was then waste and void as far as any form of life was concerned, while it was probably surrounded by a dense mass of clouds and vapours sufficient to produce darkness. Genesis then starts from the right starting-point, but again we must ask, how did the writer know this?

(2.) Light.

The first step in the development of the earth was, we are told, the introduction of light. That this is what Genesis means seems plain, for the light must refer to the darkness of the previous verse, and that referred to the earth. As to whether light previously existed in other parts of the universe, Genesis says nothing, it is only concerned with this earth. And in the development of this earth, light (which in nature always includes heat) must obviously have come first. For on it depend the changes in temperature, which lead to the formation of winds, clouds, and rain; while it also supplies the physical power that is necessary for the life of plants and animals; so in placing light as the first step, Genesis is certainly correct. Of course, the source of light at this early period was the remainder of the nebula from which our planet was thrown off. It was thus spread over an immense space, instead of being concentrated like that of our present sun; and probably only reached the earth through a partial clearing of the clouds just alluded to.

(3.) The firmament.

The next step was separating the waters above (i.e., these dense clouds) from the waters below which are stated to be the seas (v. 9-10) and forming between them a firmament or expanse (see margin), that is to say, the air. The idea that the writer thought this expanse meant a solid plane holding up the waters above (because it is perhaps derived from a word meaning firm or solid) is scarcely tenable. For the firmament was called heaven, and the upper waters, above this heaven, must mean the sources from which the rain usually comes, since it is called rain from heaven.[13] And these sources are easily seen to be clouds; and no one could have thought that a solid firmament was between the clouds, and the seas.

[13] Deut. 11. 11.

Moreover this same word heaven (though used in various senses) is translated air later on in this very narrative when it speaks of fowls of the air (verses 26-28, 30). And it also occurs in other passages, in some of which it cannot possibly mean anything but the air, e.g., 'any winged fowl that flieth in the heaven,' and 'the way of an eagle in the air,'[14] which is an additional reason for thinking that it means the air here.

[14] Deut. 4. 17; Prov. 30. 19.

And the omission, before noticed, to say that God saw that the firmament was good, is quite natural, if this means only the air, i.e., the space between the clouds and the seas; just as an artist, though he might examine his pictures to see that they were good, would not examine the spaces between them. But it is difficult to account for, if it means a solid firmament, which would seem to require God's approval like everything else.

On the other side, we have the expression about opening the windows of heaven when it rained at the time of the Flood,[15] which is sometimes thought to imply openings in a solid firmament. But it need not be taken literally, any more than that about the doors of the sea;[16] especially as in another place the heavens dropping water is explained as meaning that the clouds dropped it.[17] And since God promised that in future when a cloud was seen it should not cause another flood,[18] it is clear that the flood was thought to have come from the clouds, and not from any openings in a solid reservoir in the sky.

[15] Gen. 7. 11; 2 Kings 7. 2; Mal. 3. 10.

[16] Job 38. 8-11.

[17] Judges 5. 4 (R.V.).

[18] Gen. 9. 14.

There is also the passage about the su

n and moon being set in the firmament. But the writer cannot have meant they were fastened to the firmament, since the moon keeps changing its position relatively to the sun, just as a rainbow often does in regard to the cloud in which it is also said to be set.[19] Of course their being in the firmament at all, is not correct if this means only the air. But the word may be used here in a wider sense, like the English word heaven, to include both the air, and the space beyond. For we speak of the clouds of heaven, and the stars of heaven, and in neither case with any idea of their being heaved up, which is said to be the literal meaning of the word. And in its primary sense, as we have shown, the firmament or expanse between the upper and lower waters (the clouds and the seas) must mean the air. And the order in which this is placed after light, and before plants and animals is obviously correct.

[19] Gen. 9. 13.

(4.) Dry land.

We now come to an important point, the appearance of dry land. According to Genesis, there was not always dry land on the earth; the whole of it was originally covered by the waters. And science shows that this was probably the case; the earth being at first surrounded by watery vapours, which gradually condensed and formed a kind of universal ocean. And then, when the surface became irregular, through its contracting and crumpling up, the water would collect in the hollows, forming seas, and dry land would appear elsewhere. But how was it possible for the writer of Genesis to know all this? There is nothing in the present aspect of nature to suggest that there was once a time when there was no dry land; and if it was a guess on his part, it was, to say the least, a very remarkable one.

(5.) Vegetation.

We next come to vegetation; and it is placed in exactly its right position. For it requires four things: soil, air, water, and light including heat; and these were the four things which then existed. The narrative, it will be noticed, speaks of three groups, grass, herbs, and fruit-trees; and it seems to imply that they appeared at the same time. But since its general plan is that of a series of events, the other view, that they appeared successively, is at least tenable.

There is, however, this difficulty. None of these groups were complete before the following periods. Some plants, for instance (including both herbs and fruit-trees), appeared long after the commencement of fishes and birds, and similarly some fishes and birds after the commencement of land-animals. But the difficulty is due to the fact that the classes overlap to a large extent. And the order given in Genesis is nearer the truth than any other would be. Had the writer, for example, placed them plants, animals, birds, fishes; he would have been quite wrong. As it is, by placing them plants, fishes, birds, animals, he is as near the truth as he can be, if classes which really overlap have to be arranged in a consecutive narrative.

(6.) The sun and moon.

We next come to the formation (that is the making, or evolving) of the sun and moon. The stars are also mentioned, but it is not said that they were made on the fourth day, and they are not alluded to in the opening command. Now, this alleged formation of the sun after that of light is certainly the most striking point in the narrative, and was long thought to be a difficulty. But science has now shown that it is correct. However strange we may think it, light did undoubtedly exist long before the sun. In other words, the original nebula of our solar system was luminous, and lighted the earth, long before it contracted into a body with a definite outline, and producing such an intense and concentrated light, as could be called a sun. And since the earth would cool much quicker than the large nebula from which it was thrown off, vegetation might commence here before the nebula had become a sun, though this latter point is doubtful.

Two objections have now to be noticed. The first refers to the moon, which must have been thrown off from the earth long before the dry land and vegetation appeared; and being so small, would have consolidated sooner. But when considered only as lights, as they are in the narrative, it is quite correct to place the moon with the sun; since moonlight is merely reflected sunlight, and must obviously have commenced at the same time. The other objection is, that according to Genesis, the earth seems to be the centre of everything, and even the sun exists solely for the sake of lighting the earth. But (as before pointed out) the narrative is only concerned with this earth; and while we know that sunlight is of use to the inhabitants of our planet, we do not know that it serves any other useful purpose.

These, however, are but minor matters; the important point, as before said, is that Genesis places the formation of the sun after that of light. This must have appeared when it was written, and for thousands of years afterwards, an obvious absurdity, since everyone could see that the sun was the source of light. We now know that it is correct. But how could the writer have known it, unless it had been divinely revealed?

(7.) Fishes and birds.

We next come to fishes and birds, which formed the commencement of animal life, and thus involved the beginning of mind in some form; so Genesis (as before said) appropriately uses the word create in regard to them. It is not clear whether the narrative means that they appeared at the same time, or successively, though here, as in other cases, the latter is the more probable. And science entirely agrees in thus placing fishes before birds and both of these after plants. This latter point indeed must be obvious to every naturalist, since the food of all animals is derived, either directly or indirectly, from the vegetable world.

And Genesis is equally correct in emphasising the great abundance of marine life at this period-the waters were to swarm with swarms of living creatures (R.V. Margin), and also in specially alluding to the great sea-monsters (wrongly translated whales in A.V.), since these huge saurians were a striking feature of the time. The Hebrew word is said to mean elongated or stretched-out creatures, and as several of them were over 50 feet long, no more suitable term can be imagined. But again we must ask how did the writer know that such creatures were ever plentiful enough, or important enough, to deserve this special mention?

What are called invertebrate animals, such as insects, and shell-fish, do not seem to be included in the narrative. But it never claims to describe everything that was created; and its extreme brevity, combined with the insignificance of these creatures, may well account for their being omitted.

(8.) Land animals.

We next come to land animals, which we are told the earth was to bring forth. As however it is said in the next verse that God made (or evolved) these creatures, this need not mean that they were produced directly from the earth, as in the case of plants. And the position in which they are placed, after fishes and birds and before man, is again correct. It is true that a few animals such as kangaroos, seem to have appeared as early as birds, but land animals as a whole undoubtedly succeeded them. Three classes are mentioned, beasts of the earth, cattle, and creeping things, probably small animals, since another Hebrew word is used for them, later on, which is said elsewhere to include weasels and mice.[20]

[20] Gen. 7. 21; Lev. 11. 29.

(9.) Man.

Last of all we come to the creation of man. Four points have to be noticed here. The first refers to the time of man's appearance, which everyone now admits was not till towards the close of the Tertiary or most recent group of strata; so Genesis is quite correct in placing him last of all. As to the actual date, it says nothing; for its chronology only leads back to the creation of Adam in chapter 2, and not to that of the human race (male and female) in chapter 1. And it is implied in several places, that there were men before Adam[21] and this was in consequence maintained by some writers long before geology was thought of.[22] We need not therefore discuss the difficulties connected with the story of Adam and Eve, as to which the present writer has never seen a satisfactory explanation.

[21] Gen. 4. 13-17, 26; 6. 2-4.

[22] E.g., Peyreyrius, A.D. 1655, quoted in the Speaker's Commentary.

Secondly, the creation of man is represented as of an altogether higher order, than any of the previous ones, since God did not say, "Let the earth bring forth a thinking animal" or anything of that kind, but 'Let us make man.' And this also is quite correct, for man, as we know (Chapter IV.) has a free will, which makes him a personal being, and therefore far above everything else on this planet.

And when we consider the vast possibilities, involved in the creation of such a being,-able to act right or wrong, and therefore able, if he wishes, to act in opposition to the will of his Maker, thus bringing sin into the world with all its consequent miseries,-it seems only suitable that such a momentous step should have been taken with apparent deliberation and in a manner different from all the others.

And it explains why no such expression as after its kind, which is so frequently used of plants and animals, is ever applied to man; for he is not one of a kind in the same sense. Each man is unique, a separate personal being, distinct from all else in the world, and not (like a tree for instance) merely one example of a certain way in which molecules may be grouped.

It also explains why man (unlike plants, animals, etc.) is not said to have been created good. For goodness in a free being must include moral goodness, or righteousness; and, as explained in Chapter VI., man could not have been created righteous. He might have been created perfect, like a machine, or innocent, like a child, but to be righteous requires his own co-operation, his freely choosing to act right, though he might act wrong. No doubt he was made in a condition perfectly suited for the exercise of his free choice; but this seems included in God's final approval of the whole creation that it was all very good.

Thirdly we are told that man (and man alone) was created in the image of God. And once more the narrative is quite correct; for that which distinguishes man from the rest of creation is his free will, to which we have just alluded. And that which distinguishes God's action from all natural forces is also His freedom, (Chapter I.). So it is perfectly true to say that man was created in the image of God, since the special attribute which separates him from all else on this planet is precisely the attribute of God Himself.

And here we may notice in passing, that though God intended man to be both in His image and likeness; He only created him in His image (vv. 26, 27). And the reason is probably that while image means resemblance in nature (possessing free will, etc.), likeness means resemblance in character[23] (always acting right). Therefore, of course, though God wished man to be both in His image and likeness, He could only create him in His image; the other point, that of likeness in character, depending (as just said) on the free will of the man himself.

[23] The Hebrew word appears to be sometimes used in this sense. E.g., Ps. 58. 4; Isa. 13. 4. In one brief reference in Gen. 5. 1-2, when speaking of Adam, likeness is used where we should have expected image; though even here it is not said that man was created in God's likeness, but merely that he was so made.

The fourth, and last point is that though the writer assigns to man this unique position, he does not give him, as we might have expected, a day to himself, but connects him with land animals, as both appearing on the sixth day. And this also seems correct, for in spite of his immense superiority, man, in his physical nature, is closely connected with animals. Therefore the writer appropriately uses both words, made and created, in regard to him. The former shows that in one respect (as to his body) he was evolved like the rest of nature; the latter, that in another respect (as to his spirit) he was essentially distinct.

(C.) Conclusion.

We have now discussed the narrative at some length, and (omitting details) it shows three great periods of life. Each of these has a leading characteristic; that of the third day being vegetation; that of the fifth day fishes and birds, special mention being made of great sea-monsters; and that of the sixth day land animals, and at its close man. And though these groups overlap to a large extent, yet speaking broadly, the three periods in Geology have much the same characteristics. The Primary is distinguished by its vegetation (e.g., the coal beds); the Secondary by its saurians, or great sea-monsters; and the Tertiary by its land animals, and at its close (now often called the Quaternary) by man. The harmony between the two is, to say the least, remarkable.

And the theory of Evolution which like geology, was unknown when the narrative was written, also supports it, as has been admitted by some of its leading exponents. Thus Romanes once said, and as if the fact was undisputed, 'The order in which the flora and fauna are said, by the Mosaic account, to have appeared upon the earth corresponds with that which the theory of Evolution requires, and the evidence of geology proves.'[24] We decide, then, that the order of creation, as given in Genesis, is in most cases certainly, and in all cases probably, correct.

[24] Nature, 11th August, 1881.

And this is plainly of the utmost importance, for the points of agreement between Genesis and science are far too many, and far too unlikely to be due to accident. They are far too many; for the chance against eight events being put down in their correct order by guesswork is 40,319 to 1. And they are far too unlikely; for what could have induced an ignorant man to say that light came before the sun, or that the earth once existed without any dry land?

Moreover, the general principles of the narrative, especially its pure Monotheism and its gradual development, are very strongly in its favour. And so are some individual points, such as the idea of creation, in its strict sense, being limited to matter, mind, and spirit. While our admiration for it is still further increased by its extreme conciseness and simplicity. Seldom, indeed, has such a mass of information been condensed into as few lines; and seldom has such a difficult subject been treated so accurately yet in such simple and popular language.

Now what conclusion can be drawn from all this? There seem to be only two alternatives: either the writer, whoever he was, knew as much about science as we do, or else the knowledge was revealed to him by God. And if we admit a revelation at all, the latter certainly seems the less improbable. And this, it may be added, was the opinion of the great geologist Dana, who said (after carefully considering the subject) that the coincidences between the narrative, and the history of the earth as derived from nature, were such as to imply its Divine origin.[25] We therefore conclude that this account of the creation was Divinely revealed.

[25] Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1885, p. 224.

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